By Connor Walsh
The growth of soccer in the United States over the last 20 years has been astounding. The fervent growth of Major League Soccer coupled with a National Team that has risen in prominence since
the US hosted the World Cup in 1994 has seen the meteoric rise in the number of prospects. This makes the job of Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff extremely difficult.
There are quite literally millions of soccer players who play in organized leagues in the United States. Filtering those millions into hundreds who can make the cut at the
professional level and then filtering those again for those players who can survive in international soccer. Needless to say, this is my attempt at doing some scouting for Klinsmann within the confines of MLS. They are the overlooked and up-and-coming, the young and old.
We’ll start at the Goalkeeper position.
While it seems rather obvious that D.C. United’s Bill Hamid has been crowned as the next great US keeper, he’s never featured for any US youth teams. Having a player of Hamid’s caliber coming
through tends to make fans a bit shortsighted. Hamid could very well become a world class ‘keeper, but there are others who will be nipping at his heels. The Chicago Fire’s athletic but erratic at times Sean Johnson, Sporting Kansas City’s Jon Kempin, and the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Brian Sylvestre have all featured prominently for United States youth national teams and along with Hamid, are ushering in the next generation of great US goalkeepers. While Kempin and Sylvestre are a ways off from the full national team, expect to see their names on a regular basis for the U-20 and potentially the U-23 teams. This is not to say that Hamid isn’t a fantastic talent; he’s recorded eight shutouts in his 28 appearances for United, good for one every 3.5 games.
Not bad for a 20 year old, in any league. Expect Hamid to feature in one of the potentially four remaining games in the calendar year. Tim Howard won’t be around forever and Brad
Guzan can’t get minutes at Aston Villa to save his career. With Klinsmann leaning on players who are locked in starters for their clubs, I wouldn’t expect Guzan to get a look anytime soon, at least not until he’s able to find regular playing time.
The backline of the yanks is in a time of transition.
Old hands like Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra will be phased out over the next couple of years and even veterans like Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu are in the twilights of their careers, despite both playing well in Denmark and Portugal respectively. Michael Orozco Fiscal doesn’t look like much more than a stand in unless the US plays small and quick frontlines; Zak Whitbread can’t stay healthy for Norwich and Michael Parkhurst, according to the experts, doesn’t have the size to compete at theinternational level, despite his excellent play for FC Nordsjaellend. Now is the time to begin integrating the next generation of defenders into this squad. This has already started with young guys like Arsenal target Tim Ream and Timothy Chandler getting extended looks, under both Bob Bradley and Klinsmann. Next guys in? How about FC Dallas stalwart George John? John was on the brink of a £1.2m deal to English Premier League club Blackburn before talks broke down at the final moment. He was called up for this past January camp under Bradley, but was forced to withdraw due to injury. He’s also the owner of a Greek passport and has been called into the Greek camp on at least one occasion. With EPL clubs sniffing around, John’s talent is obvious. Surely Klinsmann is keeping tabs on this one before the US loses another prospect to a European country. John is just one of a new breed of American centerbacks who are sure to get their opportunities soon enough. Others include the seemingly forgotten LA Galaxy giant Omar Gonzalez, who’s enjoying another MLS All-Star caliber season. Many will question his lateral movement and distribution from the back, however as he continues to refine his game these will get better. Another up-and-coming centerback is A.J.Soares of the New England Revolution. While his club continues to struggle, Soares is one of the few bright spots in a squad trying to find itself. Soares is an intelligent workhorse who will compete with any forward MLS has to offer. Soares is the owner of an Italian passport,making him immediately more viable in the eye of European clubs who won’t have to use a non-EU player spot on him. Perry Kitchen and Ethan White down in D.C. are also ones to keep an eye on. While their youth has shown through thisseason, they pair extremely well together.
Geoff Cameron is a hard one to place, considering he stars for Houston as both a central midfielder and in the center of defense. Taking into account the US’ depth in midfield, I think he could more easily slide into a centerback spot for the Yanks and his ability to play in midfield will show Klinsmann that he’s calm and confident on the ball, something that Klinsmann will require from his CBs
moving forward.Ream, John, Gonzalez, and Soares will form the future core of the US defense. But it’s at the outside back positions where the US could use some reinforcements. While youngsters like the aforementioned Chandler and Eric Lichaj are currently making names for themselves, behind them is a desolate land, populated by outcasts and failed experiments.
It’s entirely possible that Jonathan Bornstein is a janitor for Tigres now. Edgar Castillo doesn’t seem to be the answer. So this day begins my championing of Philadelphia’s Sheanon Williams and Colorado’s Anthony Wallace. Williams has been a mainstay in the Union backline since the tail-end of last season and is now a permanent fixture for them this year. He’s recorded a goal and a couple assists on the year and at only 21, still has several years of learning ahead of him. He’s featured well for US youth teams and I would think he has a shot at making the upcoming Olympic squad.
Wallace only joined Colorado last season but almost immediately implanted himself as a starter on the left side of defense…I say again…THE LEFT SIDE of defense. He’s notched a pair assists
this season before recently going down with a couple injuries. He helped Colorado to a win in the MLS cup last year and has over 30 caps for US youth teams, including in the 2007 U-20 World Cup, when the US reach the quarterfinals.
The United States is loaded with talent in midfield, both young and old, however one player who has been making a case for years that he deserves to be a
regular is Houston’s Brad Davis. He’s only having an MLS MVP season with four goals and thirteen assists this season, and has notched double-digit assists in three consecutive campaigns. He’s alsoleft footed, and if you’re a US fan and you don’t see the need for more left footed players in the picture, then kindly puff, puff, pass what you’re smoking
down this way. One of Davis’ protégés on the flanks is the US youth international Danny Cruz, who would work his way into the Olympic picture if he continues his strong campaign. Others to keep an eye on include Real Salt Lake’s phenom Luis Gil and Philly strongman Amobi Okugo.
Forward prospects for the United States are so few and far between, but they do exist, I can assure you. Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo are known quantities, they’ll feature heavily for the US moving forward I’ll assume. Remove them however, and MLS looks a barren wasteland. Fear not my friends! Justin Braun at Chivas USA has notched seven goals and three assists in 26 games this season and could prove a serviceable front man due to his size and strength. He was set to get his first cap on two occasions under Bradley’s regime however was an unused sub the first time and suffered an injury the second go around. How about rookie frontman Will Bruin down in Houston? We all recall that hat-trick against DC from this past April. He’s one for the future, and he’s learning under Brian Ching, so he could turn into something come next year. Youth internationals Jack McInerney and Omar Salgado are also on the way up but still have a long way to go.
There’s always the Charlie Davies question that comes up from overly optimistic US fans, hoping that the Davies we saw in the 2009 Confederations Cup could somehow miraculously resurrect itself. Listen, Davies will not be the same player again, and to ask him to be is extremely selfish. The guy nearly lost his life and to do what he has done so far with DC is in itself nothing short of amazing. I’m of the opinion that Davies has played his last match with the United States. And while that may sound a bit harsh, there are guys like Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo who are already ahead of him, and in a role that can be filled by regulars like Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and even Landon Donovan. Would I love to see Davies back in? Of course I would. One could make a valid argument for him, eleven goals in 21 appearances is a hell of a strike-rate. Davies may very well earn a look from Klinsmann in the upcoming friendlies, after all what could it hurt?
Klinsmann has until June until qualifying for the 2014 Brazil World Cup begins for the United States. In that time he will have around nine friendlies to try out potentially over 100 players, from both the European leagues and Major League Soccer. Will we see all the names I’ve mentioned here? Doubtful, however I think you can expect to see perhaps half of these guys within the next calendar year, whether just to rule them out or uncover a diamond in the rough, expect Klinsmann to take a full uninhibited view of most of the player pool. Results still don’t really matter, but finding a cohesive unit of 30 or so players’ heading in to qualifying is his and his staff’s job for the next eight months.